Shadow On Their Wall

In this one-man show, a man called Michael shoots himself, speaks to his therapist about his depraved impulses and his infatuation for the wife who has left him and stalks said wife outside the house she now inhabits with their daughters and a new man. Due to the order and repetition of these events, it is difficult to tell which comes first chronologically. One interpretation would be that the therapy session, for which he pays a fortune to ‘spill his own guts’, has in fact unleashed what had been previously kept in check.

As a debate about whether storytelling and indeed therapy is beneficial to the sufferer, or whether it worsens matters, this play carries some interest. There was also some discussion about the inefficacy of language in expressing ourselves. Michael’s therapist complains that he’s not being clear, Michael fumbles for the right words, worries about ‘mixing his metaphors’.

However, the image of an outsider hovering beyond the window of the new family they have been abandoned for is beyond cliché and unfortunately this was the main focus of the production. Although the script is genuinely interesting at times, it too often slips into pretension. At one point during Michael’s therapy session he lets out a loud frenzied shout, pauses and then says ‘Yes: raw.’ The fact that this was a moment of raw emotion didn’t need to be pointed out and the fact that it was detracted. Apart from a few physical theatre sequences of Michael getting up, shooting himself, brushing his teeth and driving, the first thirty minutes of the production consist of Michael telling us how he feels, drenching his words in overly poetical imagery and melodrama.

One-man shows should not have to be one-perspective shows. There can be skilful hints as to what the other characters are thinking and hints to perspectives beyond that of the main character. This did not happen in Shadow. In Shadow, none of the other characters were acted out. The wife was presented solely through Michael’s eyes. She was the ‘prettiest, purest thing’ he’d ever seen: a wordless, viewless, symbolic enigma, into whom the audience was given no window.

The therapist too was not treated as another character in his own right: Watkins would deliver his lines, pause as if another person was talking, then answer this imaginary figure’s questions. The only reason you could tell an imaginary figure was speaking was from what Watkins was saying, not from how he was acting. Watkins failed to act out listening and reacting to a voice believably.

Although Watkin’s performance was often considered, there were some serious moments of shortcoming. Certain moments of emotional climax seemed flat and off-hand. The phone conversations between Michael and his wife’s new lover also seemed unconvincing.

One thing about Shadow is that it’s atmospheric. The set was great. Michael’s bedroom contained a dressing table which opened up into a car windshield for the driving and stalking sequences. A small doll’s house was used to represent Michael’s ex-wife’s new home. The occasional red and green lighting suited the almost film noir impression of the piece and the sound effects of the rain, as well as the musical interlude of Michael’s nostalgic memory of a picnic he had had with his wife many years before were also welcomed touches. With a subtler script and more honed acting, this production could really step into the limelight.

Performances

The Blurb

Michael awakes, confused and disorientated. Can he ever move on from his darkest hour? Nominated for Best New Writing (Buxton Fringe). ‘A triumph of small-scale theatre. Taut, powerful, a remarkable partnership between actor and script’ **** (FringeGuru.com).